LAST LAP FOR VOTES
By Andre Bagoo in Tobago Saturday, January 19 2013
POLITICAL parties vying for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) yesterday began their last lap, seeking to create a final push of momentum ahead of Monday’s polls.
The People’s National Movement (PNM) and the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) both held a series of events in Scarborough, Tobago’s capital, designed to show the electorate what they had to offer.
The PNM Tobago Council held a walkabout – billed as “Red Day” – as their Women’s Forum paraded the streets of Scarborough. The parade started at about 5.30 pm just off Old Market Square and ended at the Scarborough Esplanade where a rally took place, attended by incumbent THA Chief Secretary Orville London and PNM Belle Garden East/Roxborough/Delaford candidate Hilton Sandy, among other top-brass party officials.
Hundreds of PNM supporters made good their promise to turn the streets red, chipping to political jingles played by large music trucks, snaking their way through the urban centre of the island. They wore PNM T-shirts and bore PNM flags. Some danced to the music, holding umbrellas to shade from the hot sun or wearing sunglasses. Others decked themselves with feathered headdresses – one man had a headpiece made out of peacock feathers – and carried water or beer to keep cool.
For yet another day, at towns and villages all over the island, vehicles with loud-speakers played political jingles, one crying, “We voting TOP! TOP! TOP! TOP!” and another, “O! PNM coming!”
A man on a loudspeaker drove around Canaan/Bon Accord saying, “A vote for the TOP is a vote for the UNC.”
The TOP was last night due to hold a rally – billed as a “Freedom Rally” – at Old Market Square, not far from the same location where the PNM supporters had begun their walkabout earlier in the day.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was due to speak last night on the platform alongside TOP political leader Ashworth Jack. Entertainment was also expected, including Sizzla Kalonji, Baby Cham, Denise Belfon, Swappi and Roy Cape.
All of the events were the start of a final round of activities all the way up to Monday, election day, when political campaigning will have to come to a halt.
On Saturday, the TOP will journey into the heart of the island, and hold a rally at Sandy River, Mason Hall, in the centre of Jack’s polling division at 7 pm. At the same time, the PNM, will hold its own youth rally.
Up to yesterday, the TOP was scheduled to carry out a motorcade on Sunday – the Sabbath for many Christians – starting from Tambrin Square at 9 pm. Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s diary continued to focus on Tobago.
After returning to the island on Thursday evening, after the weekly Cabinet meeting in Trinidad, Persad-Bissessar launched several programmes in her continued campaign to woo Tobagonians to support coalition partner TOP.
In a sign of the frenetic nature of the build-up to the election there was a virtual battle of political DJs at the launch of a University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) campus at Scarborough, attended by Persad-Bissessar.
She formally opened the UTT education campus – meant to administer its BA in Education programme – at Milford Road. The launch took place under four specially set up tents just off the road, which adjoins central Scarborough’s busy esplanade.
Things got off to a smooth start, with the master of ceremonies, Dr Arthur Potts, starting the proceedings at 2.45 pm. However, one of the many vehicles with loudspeakers which have been driving around Tobago playing political jingles, passed by and interrupted the safety briefing.
“O! PNM coming!” blared from the car, as the safety briefing was paused to let the car pass by on the busy street. But then, at about 3.12 pm, just as the Minister of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education Fazal Karim was delivering his address, another car passed, this time blaring, “We voting TOP TOP TOP TOP!”
By the time TOP’s Jack finished his speech at about 3.30 pm, another car was passing. The master of ceremonies held back his introduction of the Prime Minister, who was due to deliver her feature address, to wait for the car to pass.
“PNM people!” it shouted.
“Ladies and gentlemen, just excuse the little lull,” Potts said. “I want to make sure we introduce the next speaker at the right time.” To the DJ at the UTT event, he said, “Is there some other kind of music we can play in the meanwhile?”
The UTT DJ put on generic pan/soca music.
But the car outside was still blaring. Potts queried whether it was possible to bring back a band that had performed earlier.
“Can we bring back the band?” he asked. That band could not return. Potts told the DJ, “They are not readily available so shall we have some more music?”
After about five minutes, when he finally introduced Persad-Bissessar, she said, “Dr Potts, I like music so it’s okay when music passes up and down. We are in an exciting time. This is a time for change.”
The Prime Minister heralded the opening of the new UTT education campus but also said her Government proposed to build a full university in east Tobago.
“Our vision is to have a full campus in Tobago,” she said. “Our vision is for this facility to come on stream. An integrated campus for Tobago.” She said there is as yet no site selected and a rumour that land would be acquired from a person with ties to the Government was far from the truth.
“Nothing is further from the truth,” she said. “There is a site-selection committee for the campus so I just want to debunk that idea. No final decision has been made.”
Karim noted that in 2011, 4,775 Tobagonians accessed the GATE programmes, at a cost of $51.7 million. In 2010, 3,137 Tobagonian students accessed the programme at a cost of $35.4 million. Persad-Bissessar said GATE would not be closed and the Government is aiming for a 60 percent enrolment in tertiary education from the pool of secondary school graduates (she said the current level is 42 percent).
The Prime Minister said her son attends the UTT campus at Corinth, Trinidad. She pledged that the Government would build a long-awaited library in Tobago.
To Jack she said, “We will establish it for you in Tobago and I know after Monday you will complete the library.” The Prime Minister also yesterday afternoon launched a training programme for apprentice mechanics at an event hosted at Old Government Farm Road, Shaw Park. She said the programme is the first of others to be introduced at Beetham, Port-of-Spain and San Fernando in Trinidad.
“We want Tobago to become an education hub so that others will come here,” she said.